I doubt this will be the last swine flu story we hear during this year's Hajj.
Tunisia bars citizens from performing Haj
Tunisia has barred its citizens from making the annual pilgrimage to Makkah for the first time because of a lack of swine flu vaccines, the government said Tuesday.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs said a batch of H1N1 flu jabs would not arrive before mid-October, too late to ensure Haj pilgrims are vaccinated.
The Haj starts from around Nov. 25, depending on the sighting of the moon.
Tunisia sends up to 10,000 pilgrims for Haj under a quota system worked out in the ratio of 1,000 pilgrims to a population of one million.
Saudi Arabia has urged the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the pregnant to postpone Haj this year. Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said Tuesday an automated detection system for contagious diseases would be introduced for the first time during this Haj season. Speaking to reporters after presiding over a meeting of Haj preparatory committees, he said health officials would focus on preventive medicine and intensive care during Haj. There will be three labs in Makkah including one at the holy sites. “We have readied adequate amount of medicine to treat swine flu cases,” he added.
Several Muslim countries sought to limit the number of pilgrims traveling to Makkah for Umrah during Ramadan this year, but Tunisia is the first country to formally ban its citizens from performing Haj.
No one has yet died from swine flu in Tunisia, which has documented 80 cases of the virus so far.
Tour companies report that the fear of the virus has already led to a sharp drop in the number of people making the pilgrimage this year. Dubai’s Arabian Business magazine last month estimated the loss to the regional tourism industry at $266 million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) restated its confidence in the H1N1 flu vaccine on Tuesday, calling it the most important tool against the pandemic.
Mild adverse side effects such as muscle cramps or headache are to be expected in some cases, but everyone who has access to the vaccine should be inoculated, it said.
Mass vaccination campaigns against the swine flu virus are under way in China and Australia and will be starting soon in the United States and parts of Europe, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in Geneva.
“It is important to remember that the vaccines, which have already been approved, have been used for years and years and years in their seasonal vaccine formulation and have been shown to be among the safest vaccines that exist,” he told a news briefing.
Hartl, asked whether WHO was concerned by reports that some people were reluctant to be injected with the new vaccine, said: “Certainly we have seen the reports. Again, we would restate that the most important tool that we have to fight this pandemic is the vaccine.”
It was doubly important that health care workers be vaccinated, as it protects them as well as patients, he added. “We would hope that everyone who has a chance to get vaccinated does get vaccinated,” Hartl told Reuters.
The United Nations agency declared in June that the H1N1 virus was causing an influenza pandemic and its collaborating laboratories have provided seed virus to drug makers worldwide to develop vaccines. http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4§ion=0&article=127153&d=7&m=10&y=2009